Finally settled at Tanglewood for the summer. A busy opening week. I hope to be blogging regularly as the season gets underway. Lots of great programming this year. If anyone is going to be in the area and interested in checking out the Zukofsky settings (or any other concerts) lemme know.
Got some new pieces in the final issue of Puppyflowers, as well as the new issue of String of Small Machines. Thanks to everyone who had a hand in making those issues stellar.
In other news: After receiving a whole slew of really good chapbooks/books this spring, I’ve decided to start asking some questions of the authors. The first Test Pilot: Aaron Tieger. Aaron’s new books include, SECRET DONUT, ANXIETY CHANT, COLLECTED TYPOS, & the collaboration with Jess Mynes & Michael Carr, NECCO FACE. Here’s Part 1 of 2…
AH: One of the things I really admire about your work is that you seem to always be able to take down the poem that is right there in front of you. In this respect your work reminds me of Eigner’s, in that you can take the world that you are presented with and transform it into a poem with a beguiling ease...
AT: I like Eigner a lot, but it’s not coming out of him so much as it is Bernadette Mayer, Bill Corbett, people like that. I’m very much a transcriptionist, I think. I feel like there’s always material in front of or all around me; it’s just a matter of filtering out what the interesting stuff is and how it related to whatever’s in my head. Which of course requires sorting out what’s in my head.
It can get a little limiting, which I think is my chief frustration with my own writing, that basically I need to get out more. It’s difficult because I tend to start from such concrete materials, and often have a hard time infusing or grafting enough abstraction to make it actually go somewhere. I have, though, made a conscious effort to put less of my cat into the poems, though it doesn’t always work.
AH: The repetitions in your poems are very subtle. And it adds an air of seriality to the pieces. I was wondering if this is a conscious part of the composition process, or does it just develop organically?
AT: Are you thinking of repeated images, or moods, or what? If we’re talking about images, it’s probably a byproduct of that transcriptionist element I mentioned. As Dorothea Lasky has noted, the word “project” is problematic, but I do feel like this sort of daily serial transcriptionist thing is, for lack of a better word, my ongoing project. Of my books, I see Days and Days, February, Coltsfoot Insularity, Spring Poems, Summer Poems, Anxiety Chant, most of Secret Donut, & Recently Clouds as constituting the main body of work, whereas stuff like Sea Shanties, After Rilke, the French poems in Secret Donut, and Collected Typos are more experimental side-project type stuff.
Also, the classical Japanese and Chinese poets were very actively important to me for quite a while in my 20s, and their attention to chronology and the seasons definitely rubbed off. When I’m arranging a manuscript, or even a longer poem or sequence, it’s virtually impossible for me not to consider the chronology of the poems’ composition in my arrangement, to the point where if I break chronology, I feel physically uncomfortable.
AH: Sound, & sounds, seem to be a recurring theme in Anxiety Chant. And there is an attention to sound at the line level that really moves the poems along a vigorous way. Can you speak about how you approach the organization of sound in your poems? And what sound (and I know this is abstract & broad) means to you as a poet in terms of composition?
AT: It’s not something I consciously work on, at least not at first. I think about it more in terms of overall, hmm, impact, may be the right word. I aim for directness and so first I think about the line & how I want the line to breathe and how I want it to strike. That’s mostly a rhythmic issue that I first really started thinking about back in 2000 or 2001, when I saw Joe Torra read at MIT. The way he read (especially “Brisk Walk to Harvard Square” which is one of my favorite Boston poems) sounded to me just like the Ramones: 4/4, no fills, no bullshit. And that started me thinking about getting a more “direct” quality into my work.
You always think about things like what word sounds the best at the end of the line, but I tend to do that mostly automatically, I think. When I’m organizing a poem my conscious concern is space, the indents and breaks.
AH: Lets talk about music. Music seems to play a huge role in your work. Waiting Room (Fugazi), Boss (Springsteen, and the Darkness on the Edge of Town line at the end), Billy Zoom (guitar player for X) makes an appearance in Thinking About Feelings… how do these things feed into your composition process? And I swear I can hear a skateboard in Thinking About Feelings as well...
AT: Yeah, that’s a skateboard. The half-pipe was a big influence on a lot of the poems in Anxiety Chant.
Music is my first love — I started playing guitar when I was 13 or 14, probably around the same time as I started writing poems, but as a kid I always thought I’d grow up to be a musician, not a writer. There’s a visceral quality that music has that — for me, anyway — poetry rarely does, and that’s a quality I try to get at in various, usually invisible ways when I write. That 4/4 thing with Joe Torra and the Ramones. Or, more recently, the abstraction of jazz, however cliché that may be.
As for the references, well, they’re part of what’s around me, and so if I drop Billy Zoom or a John Cale quote into a poem, it plays fundamentally the same role for me as the weather, or my cat, or whatever. Most of the time I just steal or warp lines from songs without citing them, which I think/hope makes it a more organic part of the finished product than if I included a list of citations at the end of a book. If I’m including someone else’s line, it’s because I want the line, not so much because I want people to think specifically of New Order, for example.